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Test Drive: Is BMW’s 3 Series long wheelbase ‘Gran’ enough?

S Muralidhar | Updated on February 11, 2021 Published on February 11, 2021

Safety tech include six airbags, ‘attentiveness assistance’’, ‘dynamic stability control’ including cornering brake control and parking assistance   -  S Muralidhar

The transmission tunnel is fairly tall. Yet, a passenger sitting in the middle of the rear seat should still be comfortable than in the standard sedan   -  S Muralidhar

We test drive the sparkling new 320Ld to get the answers. So, should this be your next Limo?

For years, the BMW 3 Series has been considered the sportiest compact luxury sedan in the market. Despite the firm, slightly bouncy ride at the rear, of the earlier generation, most buyers who frequented the driver’s seat would have appreciated the spirited performance of this rear wheel driven sedan.

Of course, the 3 GT that came later was also hugely popular, proving that Indian buyers appreciated the practicality of the GT, its extra room and more pliant ride. This must’ve been fairly obvious given that many of them tend to choose the rear seat often.

The craving for more space in the cabin is not unique to us; apparently it is an Asian ‘phenom’. The Chinese market is full of long wheelbase versions of pretty much every European luxury vehicle that you can think of. In the not too distant future, our streets will be full of them too.

The Jaguar XJL and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class long wheelbase have already shown that we like the extra legroom. The 3 Series Gran Limousine joined that growing list last month. One small difference for the 3 GL will be that it has been developed exclusively for India, amongst right-hand drive markets.

Design

The 3 GL will replace the 3 GT, which was a touring style sedan.The longer wheelbase model changes the game for value and space conscious buyers in the entry luxury segment. The new GL is not very different in terms of design and exterior features, but stare at it long enough and it becomes quite obvious that this one is bigger than the regular 3 Series sedan. The ‘Gran Limousine’ appendage to the name comes from the extra 110mm length that it’s wheelbase gets. Having been developed for European or American buyers, most regular wheelbase luxury sedans tend to have smaller rear doors. If you are observant it should also be quite obvious from the longer rear doors of the 3 GL that this is the long wheelbase version.

The 3 Series Gran Limo is about 4.82 metres long, with the wheelbase being a couple of inches short of three metres. The width remains the same as the regular 3 Series sedan, as does the track. The 3 GL still looks proportionate and elegant; its wheels set at the extremes. The long bonnet and short overhangs give it a strong stance. The 17-inch alloy rims shod with 225/50 R17 Bridgestone Turanzas weaken the profile just a touch. The grille at the front has a single frame for the twin kidneys. The LED headlamps, the extensions and the slim tail-lamps are familiar units, though they feature minor variations for the GL. There is clearly more glass area along the windows and there is also the addition of a panoramic sunroof in the 3 GL.

 

The transmission tunnel is fairly tall. Yet, a passenger sitting in the middle of the rear seat should still be comfortable than in the standard sedan   -  S Muralidhar

Cabin

The exterior proportions did leave me wondering if this is the biggest sedan in its segment, however, stepping into the cabin confirmed my suspicions. Just a glance towards the rear is enough to see that this is significantly more spacious than most competitors. There’s oodles of space for rear occupants; 43mm of extra legroom to be precise. Getting in and out is also easy thanks to longer rear doors, which have grown by exactly the same 110mm increase in the wheelbase.

Leather upholstery and thicker padding for the squabs make the rear seat a good perch for occupants. I could stretch out my legs and there is much better under thigh support and the backrest angle is comfortable too. Headrests and central armrest for the rear seat have also been redesigned.

There is ambient lighting, welcome light carpet for front doors and illuminated door sills to make this Gran Limo feel special to be in. The cockpit continues to be driver focused and the dashboard is similar in layout to the regular 3 Series sedan. The tailgate is electrically operated, hands free - ‘comfort access’ - operation is available for the M Sport trim. Boot space is 480-litres; also houses the emergency spare wheel.

Diesel engine version is offered only in one ‘Luxury Line’ trim. The petrol engine is offered with two - Luxury and M Sport - trim lines. M Sport trim variant features some exterior highlights to identify its special status, including 18-inch alloys. A few extra cabin features for this trim variant include a head-up display and gesture control for the Harman Kardon infotainment system. Light brown leather seats and open pore wood inserts were some special elements in my test mule 320 Ld. The rest of the cabin is identical to the regular 3 Series sedan in terms of layout and finish.

Performance

The new 3 Series Gran Limo gets the same two powertrains that the regular sedan is already offered with, and in the same state of tune too. The petrol powertrain is the 1,998cc, BMW TwinPower Turbo, 4-cylinder unit that delivers 258hp of peak power and 400Nm of torque. The 320Ld that I was testing features the 1,995cc, 4-cylinder Diesel engine, with similar twin turbochargers and generating 190hp of peak power and 400Nm of max torque.

Both the engines are mated to the 8-speed sport auto transmission from ZF. By the books both the power units are just a shade less quick off the block compared to the regular 3 Series sedan. Rated fuel efficiency for the 3 GL is 15.3kmpl for the petrol and 19.62kmpl for the diesel.

Driving the 320Ld confirms that the additional about 120kgs doesn’t weigh down the long wheelbase’s on-road performance. Though output is identical, this doesn’t feel very different to the standard sedan. It sprints eagerly, turn-ins are precise and it is predictably composed at speed.

The regular sedan is dynamically a notch better, but ride quality is more pliant in the GL, with the suspension being softened a tad bit. A longer wheelbase and softer suspension needn’t worry buyers about ground clearance issues because the 3 GL is sprung higher than the regular sedan.

Bottom Line

The new 3 Series Gran Limousine is the right choice in its segment for buyers who have a clear liking for longer wheelbase models. Retaining the much loved character of the 3 Series was key to making this work. And that the 3 GL does ably.

The quieter cabin and extra features are welcome, and yes, you will need to pay a premium for it.

Prices start at ₹51.5 lakh for the 330Li luxury line and go up to ₹53.9 lakh for the 330Li M Sport; the 320Ld sits in between at ₹52.5 lakh.

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Published on February 11, 2021
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